I first learned how to draw an alligator at a young age because I thought these were cool little reptiles. Fast forward to now with new drawing experiences, you can also learn what it takes to create a realistic alligator drawing.
Details weren't a major concern back then in my younger days. It was easy as I didn't care about how the little details like how the scales were positioned on the body. However, any artist should strive to draw an alligator to learn how to draw scales.
This is important should you decide to go the route of a fantasy illustrator as there will be a lot of creatures, like dragons, that are derived from reptilian textures. Hence, the emphasis here will get you to look at the complexities of scales.
It's not only scales, either. The entire shape of this animal's head, along with other reptiles, is an inspirational source for a lot of deadly fantasy creatures. So from head to tail, I am certain what you learn here will be useful towards and future drawings.
First thing in learning how to draw an alligator is making a gesture sketch. If you haven't already, look up pictures of an alligator anatomy and mentally picture the overall shape of the exterior.
As you start drawing, ask yourself questions like: how many heads does the alligator take up to create the overall length? How are the bones positioned inside the animal? Once you have an ideal, sketch out the geometric shapes that create the reptile.
On the second step, create a wire frame of the alligator by doing a series of horizontal and vertical lines that wrap all around the body. It doesn't have to be exact but it does have to correspond to the shape of the body.
Be careful of the tail, though. There are two horizontal lines that combine together near the end of the tail. Do this lightly as you will be using this sketch as a visual guide to paint skin texture on the alligator.
This step is relatively easy. Basically, you want a nice solid base to start painting your skin textures on. To do that, start up a new layer underneath your gesture drawing. Then, pick up a nice dark tone and fill it in.
Set your brush pressure sensitivity setting to 100% as you want a nice solid object to work with. As you fill in the tone, try to conform it to the shape of your gesture drawing as best as you can.
Once you have done that, merge the two layers together so it is one layer. Your alligator should be a nice solid shape with the gesture lines in place. If the gesture lines are hard to see, increase the contrast levels in this layer so you can see it easier.
The next step would be to lock the layer in place. The advantage is that it will allow you draw the details without going over its boundaries. You can always toggle this feature on and off in case you need to erase into the drawing.
Now that you have your gesture drawing with a nice dark base, it is actually quite easy to paint the rest using the idea of negative space. Using a small digital chalk brush, begin to dab in parts of the skin around the body. Adjust the brush size accordingly.
Smaller scales around the under body can be dabbed in using higher amounts of pressure to signify a lighter part of the skin while dabbing in lightly will create darker scales on the backside of your alligator.
In the meantime, be careful of the alligator's face. You shouldn't dab in too much detail as you just want to suggest texture rather than work on each individual patch of scales. You will also notice that there are some pointy scales coming out of the alligator.
Depending on the angle of the body, you can dab in little points to create these little protrusions. As mentioned before, don't forget the two horizontal rows of protrusions that come together at the base of the tail.
You still need to worry about how light and shadows are created on your reptile to make it look real. With your solid alligator object in place, continue locking down the shape of the alligator and start work on drawing the light.
If you are using Photoshop, create a clipping mask and set the transparency of it to 50% so you can paint on the overall lighting effects without covering your details.
If you are using another software that does not have clipping masks, simply duplicate your alligator drawing on a separate layer, preserve the transparency on that new layer, paint the light and shadows, and then adjust the opacity of the layer to reveal the alligator drawing underneath.
As you do this, pay extra attention to the limbs. There will areas of shadows around the limbs and underbelly as that is where light can't penetrate through. Add in a cast shadow to give the alligator some more realism.
Switch back between the layer with the alligator drawing and the lighting/shadowing layer whenever necessary if things seem a bit off. Sharpen or redraw some of the scales to further enhance the alligator drawing.
It's amazing just how much you can create simply by suggesting textures. Overall, remember this lesson well as the techniques that you have learned here will serve you well in your artistic career or hobby.